North groups testify before commission

Rep. Chris Smith.

A number of delegations representing bereaved families and organizations in Northern Ireland were in Washington, D.C. last week for a series of meetings with Capitol Hill legislators, and also to attend a hearing of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, a congressional grouping chaired by Congressman Chris Smith.

Family members of those killed in the Loughinisland Massacre in County Down in 1994 - the same day as the Irish world Cup soccer victory over Italy at Giant's Stadium - and the Sean Graham Bookmakers massacre in Belfast in February, 1992, were in attendance at the hearing in the House Rayburn Building and headed "Prerequisites for Progress in Northern Ireland."

The meeting was addressed by, among others, Geraldine Finucane, widow of murdered human rights lawyer Patrick Finucane, Christopher Stanley of British-Irish Rights Watch and Mark Thompson, director of Relatives for Justice and who had traveled with the Loughinisland and Sean Graham delegations.

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Said a statement from the commission in advance of the hearing: "After decades of political violence, the 1998 Good Friday Agreement began a new era of improved security and the promise of both reform and accountability to ensure lasting peace.

"The hearing will look at current challenges to full implementation of the agreement and the action that is necessary for continued confidence and progress in the peace process. This will include an examination of various mechanisms presently available for addressing past abuses and suggestions for moving forward, including in the case of murdered human rights lawyer Patrick Finucane."

the hearing was welcomed by Fr. Sean McManus, head of the Irish national Caucus.

"There is no better way for Washington to celebrate St. Patrick's Day than a congressional hearing on human rights and justice in Northern Ireland. At the end of the day, the thing the British government is most worried about is adverse opinion in the U.S. government.

With regard to the role of Rep. Smith, McManus continued: "This is Chris's fourteenth congressional hearing on Northern Ireland - a remarkable and unprecedented record."

Fr. Mc Manus said that he was particularly pleased that Mark Thompson of Relatives for Justice, had been invited to be a witness.

"For many years, Mark has done outstanding work in exposing collusion and other forms of England's dirty war in the North. Mrs. Finucane's presence, as always, adds great urgency and poignancy to the hearing."

The Helsinki Commission, more formally known as the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, is an independent agency of the federal government charged with monitoring compliance with the Helsinki Accords and advancing comprehensive security through promotion of human rights, democracy, and economic, environmental and military cooperation in 56 countries.

The commission consists of nine members from the U.S. Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the departments of state, defense, and commerce.

Meanwhile, representatives from the Northern Ireland Human right Consortium were also in Washington and New York last week. The group is campaigning for a "Bill of Rights" for Northern Ireland.